Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with actress and comedian, Tawny Newsome. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation.

Here is a little more on Home Fire

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Home Fire is a master class in my kind of fiction; plot driven, strong characters, a world that I recognize, political topics, moral conundrums, and life and death stakes, oh, and of course, beautiful witing. Kamila Shamsie checks all my boxes and more. Reading this book was engaging and emotional without ever getting too corny or predictable (which is worth noting, when the book is based on Sophocles’ Antigone). Part political thriller and star-crossed romance and family drama, I am telling you, Home Fire has it all.

The central conversation of this book is what it means to be Muslim in a country that has become fundamentally distrustful and hateful toward Muslims, who you can trust, and what loyalty means. Home Fire looks at the extremes of political rhetoric and terrorist groups and asks, what is fair and what is not? What laws are meaningful and which are hateful? What rules of humanity are we bound to obey?

Of course there is much much more in the book. There is family, loyalty, romance, and drama, so much drama. The characters are developed and clear on what they (think they) want and need and how best to get it. It leads to plenty of conflict that is beautifully captured by Shamsie. The female leads, Isma and Aneeka, are strong and pragmatic and fierce, and endearing and all the things that women so rarely get to be. All the characters are great. I was particularly struck by Karamat Lone, the politician and father. I could have read an entire book just about him, a Muslim conservative who is constantly called on to be the chosen representative of both sides (the Muslim minority and the Conservative party), though he doesn’t really fit anywhere. He is the golden boy of diversity and the villain turncoat. He is all the things and none of them particularly well. He manages to be despicable and pathetic, and captivated me throughout the book.

Home Fire is an exceptional book. Enjoyable to read, thought provoking, and good luck with the ending. The book gets going and never really slows down. And it should be noted, the book is short, under 300 pages, and it still packs a punch. There is much to discuss and dissect, which of course we do on The Stacks Book Club.

Click here to hear The Stacks Book Club discussion of Home Fire with guest Tawny Newsome.

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • PublisherRiverhead Books; Reprint edition (September 4, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Home Fire Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

In a book that navigates feminism and the many facets of being a woman, Men Explain Things to Me runs the gamut from snarky to scathing, from an indictment of society to a reflection on it. Rebecca Solnit has thought a lot about feminism and women’s rights, and her essays clearly indicate that.

Men Explain Things to Me came out in 2014 (my edition has added content and come our in 2015), and in the years since, the women’s movement, the 2016 election, the #metoo era, and so much more has propelled the conversation about feminism and the abuse of women in a way that Solnit couldn’t predict. In this way, the book feels more dated than perhaps it should. Solnit feels like a tame observer compared to the books and essays that have come out in the last 2 or so years. So while I found these essays smart and well done (though some were a little disjointed), they felt redundant as a reader in 2019.

I know that Solnit was an early advocate, and this critique comes with all the powers of hindsight, but in my reading, the book doesn’t hold up so much against time. It does serve as a reminder that we’ve been having these discussions for decades. In these debates around feminism, Solnit has been on the front lines and we have her to thank for many of the conversations we’re having today. One essay in this book, #yesallwomen, feels like connective tissue from this book, to the current conversations and debates we’re having today.

Men Explain Things to Me is a certain kind of feminism that centers White women. In 2019, that feels life a gapping omission. It is a reminder that 53% of White women voted for Trump. Which is of course, part of the problem when we come to the coalition that fights on behalf of women. Sure, these essays are good, but they lack in inclusion and perspective that now, just four years later, feels unacceptable.

If you’re looking for a book that is intersectional and feels very of this moment, Men Explain Things to Me might not be for you (I would suggest Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, or Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper). If you’re looking for a book that might remind you of how we got here, Men Explain Things to Me, might be a good place to start.


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman

Confession time, I love The Bachelor franchise. I know its corny and low brow and whatever else you want to say, but I also know that it is so entertaining, and it brings me so much joy. So obviously when I was listening to my favorite Bachelor podcast, Bachelor Party, and Amy Kaufman was on and said she had a book about the show, Bachelor Nation, I knew I had to read it.

More about Bachelor Nation

Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise—ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show’s inner workings: what it’s like to be trapped in the mansion “bubble”; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the Fantasy Suite. 

Kaufman also explores what our fascination means, culturally: what the show says about the way we view so-called ideal suitors; our subconscious yearning for fairy-tale romance; and how this enduring television show has shaped society’s feelings about love, marriage, and feminism by appealing to a marriage plot that’s as old as the best of Jane Austen.


Bachelor Nation is a book for people who like and/or watch (since I know these things can be different, hate watchers, I see you) The Bachelor franchise. If you don’t, don’t waste your time. The book has some interesting moments but goes on way long (could have been 50 pages shorter). The best thing is that Kaufman gets access to producers and contestants who are at least semi-revealing in their insights into the show. There is no ground breaking scoop revealed. It is a fun and trashy read, which feels right, given the source material.

I listened to this book on audio, and Kaufman narrates it. She is super animated and very casual in tone. It is almost like talking with a gal pal, who is a bit of a valley girl. The writing is nothing special, but she gets her points across. She clearly is passionate about her topic and her excitement makes the audiobook fun to listen to.

The middle of Bachelor Nation is by far the best, and has the most insight into the show. When she discusses how the contestant’s get their clothing, or how much the leads are paid, or the details of their contracts, I was totally into it. I was less interested in the introduction and ending of the book, which was mostly Kaufman telling us what she loves about the show, and how she came to it, and why. There are also little sections where famous people say why they love the show, which I didn’t care much for either.

Bachelor Nation is exactly what you think it is. If you love the show and the contestants then you should check it out, but if you hate watch the show or don’t watch at all, I think you could steer clear. And yes, just in case you were wondering, I am looking forward to Colton’s season, even though I think he is a terrible and boring pick for The Bachelor.

  • Audiobook: 7 hours and 43 minutes
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (March 6, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Bachelor Nation Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2018

First let me say, 2018 was an amazing reading year for me. I read more books than I’ve ever read in a single year. I finished 88 books. I also kept track of everything I read, partially because I love a good spread sheet, and partially to hold myself accountable.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2018.

  • 44/89 books were by authors of color (49%)
  • 48/89 books were by women (54%)
  • 26/89 books were by women of color (29%)
  • 30/89 books were published in 2018 (34%)
  • 60/89 books were acquired by me in 2018 (67%)
  • 50/89 books were nonfiction (56%)

Of all the books I read here is how the star ratings shook out

  • 16/88 books received five stars (18%)
  • 25/88 books received four stars (28%)
  • 31/88 books received three stars (35%)
  • 11/88 books received two stars (13%)
  • 3/88 books received one star (3%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2018 (in alphabetical order), though they weren’t all published this year.


Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

The true story of biotech company, Theranos its founder Elizabeth Holmes, and the scam they ran on the rest of the world. This book has it all, fraud, threats, billions of dollars, high profile characters, and a cute blonde. If you need a WTF kind of book, Bad Blood is your best bet.
Hear our full discussion of Bad Blood with Nancy Rommelmann on The Stacks, Episode 28 .


The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

A unique memoir, of women refugees, set during the Rwandan Genocide that follows Wamariya and her sister Claire as they travel through Africa looking for a way out. Poetic, and with a sense of calm, this book engages with the trauma that was endured and the perspective that it brought.


Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

An emotional memoir of life as a young Black man in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon is brutally honest and completely vulnerable as he tells of his own struggles and successes, and he connects his life with a much bigger picture of being Black in America. Laymon’s dedication to the written word and to the power of revision is striking.


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A beautiful work of fiction and a modern day retelling of Antigone set against the backdrop of ISIS in Great Britain. This book is an emotional ride with plenty of plot to keep things moving, but still a real strong commitment to developed and complex characters. This book asks the question “who is the bad guy”?
Stay tuned for our conversation of Home Fire on The Stacks Book Club in January.


Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

The story of Ward’s early years told through the deaths of five young Black men in her life over the course of four years. This book is a Black Lives Matter memoir, before we ever had the language of the movement. Ward crafts a story of pain, grief, womanhood, and Blackness, all with in her signature beautiful writing.
Hear The Stacks discussion of Men We Reaped on episode 4, with guest Sarah Fong.


Othello by William Shakespeare

I revisited this play in anticipation of our episode on New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, and was blown away by how good it is. Othello holds up. This is story of racism, jealousy, entitlement, and sexism. Aside from the language the play, it easily could have been written today. There are scenes in Othello where I found my self in tears simply reading the words. I know Shakespeare is intimidating but I found this to be more accessible than I thought, and it was the spark for my #ShakeTheStacks Challenge.


The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

A collection of beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking essays on justice, revenge, mercy, and responsibility. These essays discuss the most complex and challenging topics of the current moment, from Whiteness to the environment, from terrorism to rape culture. Though they seem like they shouldn’t be placed next to each other, yet it works perfectly. Johnson is a force when it comes to the written word. A true artist, asking questions and leaving room for her reader to find the answers.


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

If you want to learn about racism and racist ideas and the history of those traditions in America, this is your book. Kendi writes accessibly and in great detail about the power struggle between racists and anti-racists and those in between (assimilationists). He chronicles racist thinking in American life and doesn’t let racism off the hook as simply being ignorant. I still find myself thinking about this book as I watch the world unfold around me.


There There by Tommy Orange

A fantastic novel centered around a big powwow in Oakland, CA. This book is told from many perspectives, and has a cast of dynamic characters. Orange does an amazing job of sharing some of the experiences of urban Native American life, without being preachy or leaning into cliches. The writing is great and the characters are diverse and engaging, plus the plot is suspenseful and keeps you tuned in until the very end.


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I never thought I would love an advice book so much, but Tiny Beautiful Things is more than just advice. Strayed is the perfect mix of compassionate and curt. She tells it like it is, and weaves her own stories into her sage words. Sometimes she delivers a warm embrace, sometimes she takes you down a peg, but mostly she does both, and it is perfect. I know this is the kind of book I will return to when I just want someone to tell me about myself.


Thats all from me, but please share your favorite books you read in 2018 in the comments below, and I look forward to reading more great books with all of you in 2019.


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

I was thrilled to pick up Good and Mad after hearing Rebecca Traister on the Hysteria podcast. A book about the power of women’s anger and not the same tropes about shrill women felt particularly exciting. Especially during a year that brought us the Kavanaugh hearings, children being torn from their families at the border, #TimesUp and a whole lot more. Controversies and violations that women everywhere had every right to be pissed about.

Here is more on Good and Mad

In the year 2018, it seems as if women’s anger has suddenly erupted into the public conversation. But long before Pantsuit Nation, before the Women’s March, and before the #MeToo movement, women’s anger was not only politically catalytic—but politically problematic. The story of female fury and its cultural significance demonstrates the long history of bitter resentment that has enshrouded women’s slow rise to political power in America, as well as the ways that anger is received when it comes from women as opposed to when it comes from men.

With eloquence and fervor, Rebecca tracks the history of female anger as political fuel—from suffragettes marching on the White House to office workers vacating their buildings after Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Here Traister explores women’s anger at both men and other women; anger between ideological allies and foes; the varied ways anger is perceived based on its owner; as well as the history of caricaturing and delegitimizing female anger; and the way women’s collective fury has become transformative political fuel—as is most certainly occurring today. She deconstructs society’s (and the media’s) condemnation of female emotion (notably, rage) and the impact of their resulting repercussions.

In a time where most people seems to be somewhere between generally irritated and in a state of full out rage, this book felt particularly helpful in contextualizing the world. As a woman who has often been asked to calm down, or slow down, or think things out, Good and Mad gave me the encouragement I needed to continue in my rage, it gave me permission.

Rebecca Traister is the kind of person you want with you in a debate. She is smart, articulate, and can give you specific examples to prove any point. In Good and Mad Traister’s research feels comprehensive. She connects the dots between the suffrage movement, of both women and Black folks in America, to the current anti-Trump moment. She takes her time making points and documenting the many times where angry women have gotten the job done. There is so much in this book, from media bias against women to the history of rage at work to political campaigns to social movements, and Traister skillfully ties these ideas together. She underlines the history which allows for something like a #MeToo movement to flourish. She is a serious journalist committed to her beat and it pays off in this book.

One of the most complicated and frustrating parts of the women’s movement or feminism (or whatever you want to call it) is the role of White women. White women have for years used their proximity to White men to wreak havoc on people of color, while simultaneously calling for action and change in the ways that benefit them (abortion rights, for example), forgetting their success is predicated on that of all women. And though sometimes it may seem like all women benefit from the success of White initiatives, often time it is women of color who are harmed (see: Margaret Sanger). Traister doesn’t shy away from explaining these types of double standards. It is one of the most refreshing parts of this book. Traister trusts her audiences ability to think deeply about complicated matters and draw their own conclusions. She invites the contradictions as proof of the strength of a coalition like “The Woman’s Movement”

From politicians to pop singers to labor activism, this book has it all. It is a great crash course on women’s rights and rage The same rage that has propelled women spark movements. There are moments the book goes on a too long and sometimes the writing can feel dry, but it it often balanced by Traister own personal grapplings with feminism, which are fantastic. It is a powerful thing to read Good and Mad in the years following the 2016 election, and the months following the 2018 election. It is a reminder that women;s anger has been, and will continue to be an important and useful force for change.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • PublisherSimon & Schuster (October 2, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on Good and Mad Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

I am so grateful to My Mentor Book Club, a sponsor of The Stacks for sending me Joyful. MMBC is a monthly book subscription, where you get two newly released nonfiction books sent to your door. I am always really excited when the books show up, and sometimes they send me things that I’ve never heard of that are totally in my wheel house. That was the case with Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

Here is more about Joyful

Have you ever wondered why we stop to watch the orange glow that arrives before sunset, or why we flock to see cherry blossoms bloom in spring? Is there a reason that people — regardless of gender, age, culture, or ethnicity — are mesmerized by baby animals, and can’t help but smile when they see a burst of confetti or a cluster of colorful balloons.

In Joyful, designer Ingrid Fetell Lee explores how the seemingly mundane spaces and objects we interact with every day have surprising and powerful effects on our mood. Drawing on insights from neuroscience and psychology, she explains why one setting makes us feel anxious or competitive, while another fosters acceptance and delight — and, most importantly, she reveals how we can harness the power of our surroundings to live fuller, healthier, and truly joyful lives. 


Lee does a fantastic job of breaking down the ten different elements that provoke joy, she calls them “The Aesthetics of Joy” and they range from energy to magic, from abundance to celebration. This isn’t simply a design book, Joyful does a fantastic job of including the psychology of joy and experts in a range of fields that engage with each aesthetic. I particularly loved hearing about color (in the energy aesthetic) from Ellen Bennet of Hedley & Bennett Aprons. These moments through out the book provide context for Lee’s points and give depth to seemingly basic concepts.

This book allowed me to think of the different aesthetics that spoke to me, and the places in my life I could add joy. Its a totally practical guide complete with worksheets that help you figure out where you could add joy to your life, and which kinds of things spark that joy in your own environment. For me, I love sparkle, and travel, and hosting dinners, which all fit into different categories, and could work on adding color and magic into my world.

I think overall the book could’ve been a little shorter. Some of the later sections got repetitive and didn’t require as much explanation, but were still long. While the writing is solid, the content is where this book really shines. Lee traveled the world to meet with so many kinds of people and experience unique places and gardens and homes and artwork. It is almost a kind of culture study in addition to being a guide for joy.

In 2019, I’m looking forward to (or dreading) a renovation in my own home, and found this book to be helpful and inspiring for that process. It also will serve me as a guide for how I want my whole life to feel, especially with a new year on the horizon. If you like a pop-psychology book, want to live a more joyful life, or are thinking about transforming any spaces in your life (including launching a new project, or hosting a major event) I would suggest you check out Joyful and Lee’s website, The Aesthetics of Joy for guidance and inspiration.

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • PublisherLittle, Brown Spark (September 4, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Joyful Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

After reading Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir, The Other Side I couldn’t wait to dive into this essay collection, that was positioned as a sort of response to her kidnapping and rape that was documented in her memoir. The Reckonings is that response, and it is much more than that as well.

More on The Reckonings

In 2014, Lacy Johnson was giving a reading from The Other Sideher memoir of kidnapping and rape, when a woman asked her what she would like to happen to her rapist. This collection, a meditative extension of that answer, draws from philosophy, art, literature, mythology, anthropology, film, and other fields, as well as Johnson’s personal experience, to consider how our ideas about justice might be expanded beyond vengeance and retribution to include acts of compassion, patience, mercy, and grace.

She grapples with justice and retribution, truth and fairness, and sexual assault and workplace harassment, as well as the broadest societal wrongs: the BP Oil Spill, government malfeasance, police killings. The Reckonings is a powerful and necessary work, ambitious in its scope, which strikes at the heart of our national conversation about the justness of society.


The Reckonings is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. A well crafted meditation on justice and the roles that each of us, as humans and citizens, has in the greater picture and good of society. Johnson is a great thinker, who is subtle with her own intellect. She is wise. She is thoughtful. She is accessible. She sees the world in a more compassionate and realistic way than many. However she never forces her depth on her reader, instead she allows to understand her own processing, peppering her discoveries with “I think”. This isn’t done out of self doubt, but as a way to remember Johnson is trying to figure it all out, and figure out her role in it all.

This book is profound. It has something to say, about joy and health, and access, and vindication, and mercy, and grace, and privilege, and art, and the most base human desires. Johnson leans into the complex nature of sacrifice and healing. Honest and vulnerable each essay is willing to engage with the complexities of society, and in doing so, Johnson has to confront herself. Her biases and what they say about her ability to be compassionate or an ally, or whatever it is that comes up. The Reckonings has so much to say, that when I got to the end of the book, I went ahead and read all of the notes, in full, and then went back and re-read the first two essays. I couldn’t get enough of the words and what they had to say.

There are essays in The Reckonings that range from the Nigerian Girls captured by Boko Haram to Hurricane Harvey, from the justness of the death penalty to the cost of the BP oil spill. The essays seem like they wouldn’t belong in a book together, but somehow as you’re reading them, each one feels like it is in its perfect place. They all build on one another until we come to some resolution. I won’t tell you where that is, but know that it was fulfilling and bleak. The only way this book could have ended.

I think there is something to learn from this book for just about everyone. The writing is beautiful and the content matches. Johnson is a professional writer, something that we often times over look, but The Reckonings reminded me why people dedicate their life to the arts, so that they can create artwork that reminds the rest of us what it means to be alive.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • PublisherScribner (October 9, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Reckonings Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

When They Call You a Terrorist was much more than I expected. It isn’t only about the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also a deeply personal memoir of family, survival, incarceration, mental health, feminism, community and more. It is a beautifully told story, that is as inspiring as it is disheartening. 

For more on When They Call You a Terrorist

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin.


The central message and biggest take away from this book, is the power of community. Not only to activate, but also to heal, to inspire, to respond, and to nourish. Khan-Cullor’s community, one that she actively cultivates through out the book, shows us the power of marginalized people to stare down oppression and systematic abuses. To enact change, to create safety when there is none. When They Call You a Terrorist has no happy ending. Which is true for America’s Black folks. But the ending isn’t important in this book, it is about the journey of one woman, fortifying her life with like minded people and fighting like hell for her their voices to be heard, and listened to.

Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Khan-Cullors is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country―and the world―that Black Lives Matter

Kahn-Cullors (along with bandele) lets us into her life. She uses her own unique experiences to contextualize a more general Black American narrative. Her own father’s incarceration is an avatar for the hundreds of thousands of Black men who were imprisoned along side him. The abuses her brother suffers as mentally ill man in prison, become a glimpse into the many men who are abused when proper medical help would have sufficed. She combines deeply personal experiences into something relatable. In the doing, she puts a face on mental illness,  mass incarceration, drug abuse, racism, and police brutality. She humanizes Blackness. 

Something that is often overlooked in society is the role of Black and Brown women, especially queer women, in the progress of society. This book calls out this erasure, and correctly credits them with much of the social progress we have all benefited from. Khan-Cullors, demands we acknowledge the contributions, both in her own life (her mother, her friends, her lovers) and in the bigger picture (the activists she works with, and the victims of police brutality #sayhername). Bravo, for calling out women who very much are and very much have been the center of the movements toward justice and equality.

The one part of When They Call You a Terrorist that I wanted more from, was the discussion of life inside the Black Lives Matter movement. Yes, of course we hear about BLM and its formation, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, but it comes late in the book. There are moments in Ferguson, MO, as she helps organize around BLM, but there is not much about what life as a leader of such a powerful movement is like. I would have enjoyed more on that. 

I listened to this book, and Khan-Cullors reads it. She does a great job. Her voice is calming and direct. She tells her own story beautifully. It made me want to meet her. It made me want to fight alongside her. 

There is no doubt this memoir is moving. It is one woman’s story, and a slice of history. The book speaks to a bigger picture and moment, and I think we will look back on this book as one of the important texts of the decade. 

  • Audiobook: 6 hours and 29 minutes
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Reprint edition (January 16, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on When They Call You a Terrorist Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — January 2019 Books

January is just around the corner, which means, holy cow a new year, and a new month for The Stacks Book Club. The way the weeks shake out, you’re getting three bookclub reads in January. Lucky you.

First up is the 1997, best selling self-help book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements is a code of conduct that helps to transform our lives, and encourages deliberate self love to free ourselves from judgement and fear. Our episode on The Four Agreements will air on January 2nd. 

Then, on January 16th, we will discuss Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, the winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This book is a modern day telling of Sophocles’ Antigone. A suspenseful and heartbreaking story of family that is forced to chose between love and loyalty. 

Our last book of the month is Rap Dad by Juan Vidal. In his book, Vidal examines identity, race, hip-hop culture all at the intersection of his own journey into fatherhood. The book is both personal and representative of modern fatherhood and American culture. We will discuss Rap Dad on January 30th. 

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you. Don’t be shy, send over your thoughts and questions so we can be sure to include them on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our January books on Amazon:


The Stacks received Rap Dad free from the publisher. For more information on our commitment to honesty and transparency click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

109E7C7A-C34F-4CBA-AD1C-86315A297A24If You Leave Me was The Stacks Book Club pick this week on the podcast. We discussed the book in detail with author of The Ensemble, Aja Gabel. If you want to hear that full episode, click here, but be warned there are plenty of spoilers throughout our conversation. If you’ve not read the book, but want to hear more about it, check out our first ever episode of The Short Stacks (mini episodes focused on authors and their writing processes) featuring the author of If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim. Listen here, and no spoilers.

Here is more about If You Leave Me

An emotionally riveting novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.


What I appreciated most about If You Leave Me is how patient Crystal Hana Kim is with her reader. She allows us the space and time to luxuriate and unpack her novel. The book layers issues, one on top of the other. Kim gives us realistic struggles that are intertwined and complex, subtle and subdued, instead of hammering us over the head with “themes” and “imagery”. In reading this book, you feel the respect Kim gives her characters, and you the reader. She  is entrusting us with her stories. The book is bleak, almost relentlessly so. It doesn’t feel so sad in the reading, but after, you’re hit with the heaviness of what you’ve just read, and what it all means.

If You Leave Me is a story of war and so much more than war, and If You Leave Me illustrates the depth of human struggle and triumph that surrounds war. These little moments that are both monumental and common. Mental illness and distress is a major thread in this book, and Kim isn’t heavy handed. She methodically illustrates grief and depression, allowing the pain to unfold. Kim is barely there. You understand, but she never says it, he characters do not have the words. The same goes for feminism, survivors guilt, and so much more. Kim shows us, but never tells.

The book is told through the eyes of five narrators, and this too is expertly done. Our guides through this narrow landscape age and grow. They change before our eyes, the events her hear about shape them. People I once rooted for were , become reprehensible. You are shown glimpses of these people. This format works to give us a more complete picture of the world without explanation.

While I quiet enjoyed If You Leave Me, it did slow down at points for me. There were moments of  extreme pain, or pleasure, or revelation, and then moments where I felt the momentum stalled out. They never lasted long, but I could sense the absence of movement. The words remained beautiful, but the story dimmed.

This is a book you read in a few days; in front of a fire, on a vacation, uninterrupted. The premise is unlike anything I’ve read, but the story itself feels familiar and accessible. I loved the writing and the simplicity, but also the depth of topics that were woven throughout this book. If you love a rich story with developed characters and plenty of emotion, this is your book. This is the first novel by Crystal Hana Kim, and I look forward to whatever is next from her.

Don’t forget to listen to the The Stacks with Aja Gabel discussing If You Leave Me

Hear The Short Stacks conversation with author, Crystal Hana Kim

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • PublisherWilliam Morrow (August 7, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on If You Leave Me Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.